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Video: PM Boris announces England-wide lockdown

AFP/London
Filed on January 5, 2021 | Last updated on January 5, 2021 at 12.15 am

(AFP file)

Nearly 56 million people in England will return to a full coronavirus lockdown.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a new national lockdown for England until at least mid-February to combat a fast-spreading new version of the coronavirus.

Johnson said the country is at “a critical moment,” with cases rising rapidly in every part of the country.

Under the new rules, which are set to come into effect as soon as possible, primary and secondary schools and colleges will be closed for face to face learning except for the children of key workers. University students will not be returning until at least mid-February.

All nonessential shops and personal care services like hairdressers will be closed, and restaurants can only operate takeout services.

As of Monday, there were 26,626 COVID patients in hospitals in England, an increase of more than 30 per cent from a week ago. That is 40% above the highest level of the first wave in the spring.

The UK has seen a surge in coronavirus cases in recent weeks as public health officials struggle to control the spread of a new variant of COVID-19 that is more contagious than previous variants. Authorities have recorded more than 50,000 new infections a day since passing that milestone for the first time on December 29. On Monday, they reported 407 virus-related deaths to push the confirmed death toll total to 75,431, one of the worst in Europe.

“If you look at the numbers, there’s no question we will have to take tougher measures and we will be announcing those in due course,” Johnson said while visiting some of the people receiving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine at Chase Farm Hospital in north London.

The UK’s chief medical officers warned that without further action, “there is a material risk of the National Health Service in several areas being overwhelmed over the next 21 days.”

Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon also imposed a lockdown in her nation until the end of January.

Beginning Tuesday, people in Scotland will be required to stay at home except for essential reasons, to help ease the pressure on hospitals and intensive care units, Sturgeon said. Under the new rules, people can go out for exercise but can only meet one person from another household. Schools will remain closed until February, except for children of key workers and those in social care.

“I am more concerned about the situation we face now than I have been at any time since March last year,” Sturgeon said in Edinburgh.

Scotland, which controls its own health policy under the U.K.’s system of devolved government, has often imposed stricter coronavirus restrictions than those in England.

A “massive ramp-up operation” is now underway in the vaccination program, Johnson said.

But aspects of Britain’s vaccination plan have spurred controversy.

Both vaccines require two shots, and Pfizer had recommended that the second dose be given within 21 days of the first. But the U.K.’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization said authorities should give the first vaccine dose to as many people as possible, rather than setting aside shots to ensure others receive two doses. It has stretched out the time between the doses from 21 days to within 12 weeks.

While two doses are required to fully protect against COVID-19, both vaccines provide high levels of protection after the first dose, the committee said. Making the first dose the priority will “maximize benefits from the vaccination program in the short term,” it said.





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